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Krewe pioneer turns mentor; 'Playboy' a plus

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 20, 2002

Crowds at the 1992 Gasparilla parade got a glimpse of history when Ye Mystic Krewe's ship passed by.

Crowds at the 1992 Gasparilla parade got a glimpse of history when Ye Mystic Krewe's ship passed by.

"That first year, there were a lot of people along the parade route who wanted to have pictures taken with us," said Dr. Fred Reddy, who that year became one of the first four African-Americans to crack Ye Mystic Krewe's all-white color barrier. "A lot of black people said it was about time."

After nearly 90 years of exclusivity, Tampa's exclusive Krewe opened its ranks to four black men in 1991. Reddy's name was the first of the four to surface in the media.

Reddy, a retired surgeon and a member of Hillsborough County Health Care Advisory Board, says he wasn't surprised when he received his invitation, primarily because he was friends with the members who offered it to him.

"Considering the friends who asked me, it wasn't a surprise," he said. "We were friendly in a number of other social settings, mostly physicians, so it wasn't a surprise. It wasn't expected, but I didn't see it as being that big a deal."

Ye Mystic Krewe's doors are still closed to women, but to some, its acceptance of Reddy was a step toward the desegregation of Tampa Bay high society.

"I realized that it was an issue that had been a problem to the black community for a while," Reddy said. "It wasn't much of an issue, but somehow it seemed as if the community wasn't going to make much progress until it was resolved."

Shortly after the first parade, Reddy had to have his left leg removed because of diabetes. However, he says the amputation hasn't made the parade any less enjoyable for him.

Two of the original four members have moved away and are no longer involved with Ye Mystic Krewe. One resigned from the Krewe in 1994, in part because he said a promise to accept more minority members was not kept.

Reddy says only five of Ye Mystic Krewe's approximately 700 current members are black, and he plans to be one of them for the foreseeable future.

He has also taken a leadership role with another organization called the Tampa Bay Male Club, which mentors African-American boys and adolescents from third grade through college.

The group provides scholarships and computer equipment, and Reddy says it has been a success thus far.

"These are young men without a significant male role model in their lives," he said. "We provide each college student with a personal mentor in pretty much the same field as they're in, so that they can help them. It's been amazingly successful."

* * *

When you think of Playboy magazine, the first thing that comes to mind usually isn't your grandmother.

Try telling that to Helene Kersey.

Kersey was one of 11 students who posed for and appeared in Playboy when it visited the University of South Florida for its October 2000 "Girls of Conference USA" issue.

The first thing she did upon exiting the photo shoot?

Call her grandmother to share the big news.

"My grandmother and my mom have always been my biggest supporters, regardless of what I do," said Kersey, who posed fully clothed. "They trust my judgment, and they respect whatever decisions I make career-wise."

As it turns out, career-wise, it wasn't that bad a move. Kersey, more so than her 10 fellow models, has been able to parlay that shoot into a little success as a model and actor, with the help of the Playboy magazine photo in her composite.

"When I went to at auditions and castings," she said, "they looked at it more lengthily than most of the other pictures, simply because it is Playboy. Everybody looks. You have to."

When the issue came out, she received a slew of modeling offers, including one for the hair fashion publication Passion and the cruiser car mag Lowrider.

Kersey also developed a small fan base, thanks to her Web page, which contains more photos, a resume and a bio. She says she has received e-mail from New York and even outside the United States from people who have simply seen her picture and typed her name into a search engine.

She has also appeared in several low-budget independent films, the most recent of which, Sanderson County, is slated for a Sept. 12 premiere at Channelside.

"I love the idea of doing independent films," she says. "The idea of not getting paid is the rough part. But they're actually more fun to be a part of."

For the time being, though, the 22-year-old Kersey's career as a model and actor is hold, as she is preparing to graduate from USF in December with a degree in gerontology and a minor in psychology.

If acting and modeling don't work out, she said, she'll pursue a career as a middle school teacher.

At the moment, though, she's not ruling out the possibility of a return to Hef's pages.

"They did seriously want me to do a spread," she said. "If my career does take off, and this is one of those things that I stick with, then yes, I'd seriously consider it."

And for the record, Kersey says Grandma was proud, too.

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